12 ways to control your blood pressure
If you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, it means that your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be - and the greater your possibility of developing serious health problems.
If it's not checked, treated or kept under control, high blood pressure is one of the major risk factors for heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and peripheral arterial disease or poor circulation in your legs.
1 Know your numbers
Put simply, two numbers measure the level of blood pressure. One records blood pressure when the pressure is at its highest, as the heart muscle squeezes out the blood from the heart. This is called systolic pressure.
Then the heart relaxes, which allows the blood to flow back into the heart. This is the other number, called diastolic pressure.
The normal level of blood pressure is usually about 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). Get your blood pressure levels measured by your doctor or health professional such as a nurse or pharmacist.
If you've been told that your blood pressure is 140 over 90 or higher, see your family doctor.
2 Why bother if I feel well?
A person with high blood pressure may feel well, look well and often does not have any symptoms, warns Ann Scanlon.
Therefore, there are rarely any warning signs. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to get it measured and more and more pharmacies are now offering blood pressure checks.
3 Be aware of family history
If some members of your family have high blood pressure your risk of having the condition increases, says Scanlon,
However, she warns, your lifestyle also has an impact on your blood pressure - a poor diet, inactivity, alcohol consumption, smoking and diabetes all affect your blood pressure.
"We know that 80pc of cases of heart disease and stroke can be prevented through lifestyle changes," she says.
4 The ageing factor
As we age our blood vessels begin to lose elasticity and our risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke tends to increase.
If you are over the age of 30, you should have your blood pressure checked at least every five years. More than half the adults in Ireland over 45 have high blood pressure. According to statistics, 60pc or three out of five Irish men and women aged over 45 years have high blood pressure.
5 Scrap salt
A diet high in salt and low in fruit and vegetables can contribute to high blood pressure, explains Scanlon.
"The sodium in salt creates greater volumes of fluid in the body and this can increase your blood pressure."
And this doesn't just apply to your common-or-garden table salt. All those fancy salts in your cupboard contain sodium and have the same effect on your health as common table salt. Using low sodium salt may mean you use more to get the salty taste and therefore still consume the same amount of salt. Scanlon advises eating plenty of fresh fruit, which contains potassium - believed to help lower blood pressure.
6 Lose weight
Yes, blood pressure is linked to your body weight. Carrying excess weight can put strain on the heart which means it has to work harder to pump blood around the body. The good news, says Scanlon is that when you lose weight - even a small amount - your blood pressure can reduce. The Irish Heart Foundation recommends gradual and healthy weight loss such as one pound to two pounds a week.
7 Get active
Regular, appropriate physical activity helps to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. Over time, this helps to reduce the heart rate and causes the blood vessels to dilate, which in turn reduces blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, consult your GP about the level of activity which is appropriate to you.
8 Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol can contribute to unwanted weight gain because it contains calories, and this is a risk factor for high blood pressure. Cut out binge-drinking, which is defined by the World Health Organisation as six standard drinks or more, consumed on one occasion. A standard drink is a half pint of beer/lager, a small (100ml) glass of wine or a pub measure of spirits. If you drink alcohol, spread it out over the week and keep some days alcohol free, advises Scanlon.
9 Manage stress levels
There's no proven scientific link between stress and high blood pressure says Scanlon, but, she adds: "We know that when we are stressed our bodies release hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, which make our heart beat faster.
"This can cause a temporary spike in blood pressure. When stress is no longer an issue, our blood pressure returns to its pre-stress levels."
10 Trash the ash
The nicotine in tobacco smoke causes blood vessels to narrow and carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke can cause further damage. When blood vessels lose their elasticity they are less able to do their job properly, which can contribute to high blood pressure.You can greatly reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke by immediately stopping smoking.
Seek advice from your family doctor, pharmacist, local HSE office or phone the National Smokers' Quitline on 1850 201 203.
11 Manage the menopause
Women's bodies undergo many changes during menopause. These are caused by a decrease in the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone, which can contribute to an increase in blood pressure.
Oestrogen increases a substance called nitric oxide which helps dilate or widen the blood vessels so a reduction in our oestrogen levels is therefore associated with decreased nitric oxide - thereby contributing to a narrowing of the blood vessels. Menopause can also lead to increased weight, so it's important to lead a healthy lifestyle with an appropriate low-salt diet and regular physical activity.
12 Keep taking the tablets
It's important to realise that if you have been prescribed tablets for high blood pressure, you'll usually have to take them for life.
Medication that lowers blood pressure reduces your risk of stroke. The good news is, says the Irish Heart Foundation, that the tablets, in general, have few side effects. If you find that a particular tablet doesn't suit you, consult your doctor.
* Visit irishheart.ie for more information. The Irish Heart Foundation FREEPHONE helpline number,1800 252550, is staffed by nurses Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm.
Keeping an eye on high blood pressure is vital. Ann Scanlon, of the Irish Heart Foundation, tells Áilín Quinlan why
Health & Living